Following the worst fighting in Ukraine in months, the Russian legislature on Wednesday warned its members of the potential need for an emergency session. At the same time, the Kremlin warned that it would retaliate if European leaders later this summer vote to increase sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its continued support of rebels in the east of the troubled country.
Journalists and monitors on the scene reported heavy shelling in and around the city of Donetsk, which is currently controlled by separatists hoping to unite the Donbas region of Ukraine with Russia. Authorities in Kiev said the shelling was accompanied by an attack by up to 1,000 rebel troops, with tanks, on a key crossroads west of the city. The rebels denied any such attack.
Russian officials took the opportunity to bemoan the state of security in Ukraine – a refrain that was often heard in the days and weeks leading up to the invasion of Crimea.
“It's true that the situation, in the sphere of security, has deteriorated there recently,” Andrei Kelin, Russia's permanent representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Wednesday, according to the government-run news service TASS. “This puts the brakes, to a certain degree, on the operations of monitors since peaceful civilians are suffering from the falling shells and the rules of communications with them are more stringent than with the military.”
In a potentially ominous sign, Speaker Valentina Matviyenko of the Federation Council told lawmakers that they needed to stay in Moscow, according to the government-run Interfax News Service.
“I don’t exclude that the need might arise to hold another emergency session of the Federation Council, and so I ask everyone not to wander too far, and to remain in contact,” she said. “If a decision is made to hold such a session, you will be informed at the appropriate time.”
Technically, Russian President Vladimir Putin would require the permission of the Council to send Russian troops abroad, and such a request was granted prior to the official deployment of Russian armed forces into Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year, also in an emergency session.
The fighting and talk of emergency legislation comes after days of heightened tension in the region. On Monday Mikhail Ulyanov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry reasserted Russia’s claim that it has the right to deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea if it sees fit.
“Russia obviously retains the right if needed to deploy its nuclear weapons anywhere on its national territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula,” he told state-run news organization, Ulyanov was responding to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin’s statement earlier this year that such a deployment would be in violation of Russia’s non-proliferation obligations.
On Tuesday, according to TASS, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned European leaders that if they seek to intensify sanctions against Russia when they meet later this year, Moscow would retaliate in kind.
“Our partners from the European Union will gather in July to discuss a number of decisions. And if they pass decisions concerning new sanctions against Russia we would give a symmetrical reply. If they won’t, we are going to remain on the positions that we currently have,” he said.
The sanctions have, by most accounts, severely damaged the Russian economy, though not as much as last year’s sudden drop in oil prices did. In recent weeks, the Russian economy has been showing signs of improvement, though it is still expected to suffer a significant recession this year.
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